Lena Bryant: A Western

Written by Scottish Princess

Chapter I

It was a beautiful autumn morning outside when the girl opened her eyes. The birds were singing in the trees just outside her window and the sun was barely up over the mountains.

Something seems different today, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

She quickly dressed, slipped on her shoes and climbed down the ladder from her loft to the ground floor.

"Mornin', Lena."

Lena turned around, looking at the speaker.

"Mornin', Pa." She said, giving him a quick hug. "Go ahead and sit down, I'll have breakfast ready in a moment."

Lena walked into the kitchen and quickly prepared several eggs and some bacon for breakfast and made a pot of coffee for her father. Setting it all on the table, she sat down and they commenced eating.

"That was a wonderful meal, Lena." Dan Bryant said, as he helped his daughter clean up the dishes.

"Thanks, Pa." She smiled and made her way toward the door of their cabin.

"Hold on, Lena," Dan got Lena's attention as she reached the door, "Where are you goin'?"

"I'm just goin' out to check on the horses, Pa. I'll be back in a minute."

"Wait a moment." Lena's father stood up from the table where he was sitting and walked over to her.

Daniel Bryant wasn't a very big man, only about five feet nine inches in his socks. He probably weighed no more than one hundred and eighty pounds, most of which was solid muscle. He had a kind face, brown and hard from years in the mountains. His face had once been smooth, but, ever since his wife had died, worry lines had creased his face something awful.

Looking up at him made Lena realize how old he really was.

Well, not exactly old she thought, just all worn out from work and worry, not that he needs to worry; I could take care of myself.

"Lena," Dan said as he approached, he placed his hands on her shoulders and continued, looking his daughter right in the eye. "I realize that life has been very hard for you lately, what with your ma dyin' and everything. You haven't had as much education as most girls yer age, and we live way out here in the mountains so you don't have much choice. Would you like to move east?"

She stared at him, incredulous, "Why would we want to move, Pa? We have everything we need here. If we moved, I would leave all my friends behind, the town and the mountains. Pa, I can't leave the mountains, it's my home out there. I'd be lost without them!"

Lena's father chuckled, "I figured you'd say that. Yer a smart girl, there's no mistakin' that. Why, you can shoot nigh as good as any man I know; been shootin' since you were knee-high to my old horse. I know you love everything out here, Lena; the town jus' down the hill, the wooded mountains surroundin' us, the open fields. To tell you the truth, I would have been worried if you had wanted to move. Get on with your chores, girl, but try to be quick. I'll have a surprise for you when you get back in."

Lena grinned at him and ran outside.

The one chore that she loved to do was to take care of the horses, especially her own horse, Shadowchaser. She had had Shadow for going on four years; she had gotten him when she was eleven. He knew all the tricks, and came every time she whistled for him. He was named Shadowchaser because of his coloring. He looked like someone had dipped him into a can of white paint and then dipped just the front of him in black paint, so it seemed like he was constantly chasing his shadow. Lena ran past the bunkhouse where their two hired hands slept and soon reached the barn. As she entered the barn, Shadowchaser stuck his head out of his stall and whinnied at her, begging for food.

"Alright, boy." She told her black and white horse, "I'll get you your oats in a minute."

She walked to the next stall and looked in on Colonel, her father's buckskin.

"You doin' alright this mornin', Colonel?"

The big horse nickered in reply.

The next two stalls were empty due to the fact that both hired hands were out checking our cows. The fifth stall had the food in it. Lena scooped up some food and placed it into Colonel's feed bucket. Then she measured food for Shadow and watched him gobble it down.

"You really don't have to eat so fast, you know."

Lena scratched Shadow's forehead and slipped his bridle on him. Opening his stall door just as he finished eating, she led him outside to the corral, then returned to the barn and led Colonel out in the same manner.

"There you go. Now I'll be out later to ride you, Shadow, don't you worry."

When Lena stepped back inside the cabin, she could tell something was up. Her father was standing at the table with a guilty smile on his face.

"Come and sit, Lena." Her father said, continuing to smile at her. She sat down in her chair as he kept speaking. "Do you know what today is, Lena?"

"It's the sixth of June, right?"

"Yes, it's also your sixteenth birthday."

"It is? I thought today was different!"

Lena's father laughed. "I have a present for you." He said and handed her a small wooden box.

Lena carefully opened the box and gasped; inside the box lay her mother's favorite necklace. It was a one inch Celtic cross carved out of very beautiful dark wood and had a little emerald in the very center. It was strung on a piece of rawhide cord that had intricate designs all over it. Lena's father had kept all of her mother's things but none of them were prized as highly as this necklace.

"I-I don't know what to say, Pa." Lena stammered, looking up at him with tears in her eyes. "Thank you wouldn't be sufficient."

In all her years, Lena had never seen her father so pleased.

"Put it on, Lena." He urged. "I want to see how it looks on you."

She slipped the rawhide cord over her head and adjusted the cross in front of her. "It's perfect, Pa!" She exclaimed.

"I agree." Her father said. "I was going to head into town, would you like to come? Since it's your birthday, I'm sure you'd like to get a few things."

"Of course I would." Lena replied. "I'll get Colonel and Shadow hitched to the buckboard."

No sooner had the words left her mouth, than they heard the sound of hoofbeats coming up the trail.

"Now, who would be comin' up here?" Lena's father mused.

"It looks like the marshal, Mr. Butler and Mr. Sanders, Pa."

I wonder why they're all here. I hope it's nothing serious.

"It does indeed, Lena." He agreed. "I ain't gonna stand here gaping. Let's go meet 'em." He stepped outside, holding his rifle, and waved to the approaching men. Lena picked up her own Winchester rifle and followed her father outside.

"Howdy, Marshal!" Lena's father called as the three men rode up. "What brings you up here this mornin'?"

Tom Campbell, the marshal from town, walked his appaloosa forward and stopped directly in front of Lena's father. He rested his big hands on the pommel of his saddle.

"Mornin', Dan. It seems that there's a problem with stolen cattle. Butler says that he's lost about a hundred and fifty head or so and Sanders says he lost seventy-five head."

"How does that affect me?" Dan asked.

"Well, you have all this range with room for lots of cattle and Butler here thinks you have the stolen stock."

Dan stiffened up and the hand holding his gun tightened its grip. Butler always suspected somebody of a wrong; he especially seemed to dislike Dan and Lena.

Don't you worry, Pa, I'm right behind you.

"What makes you think I would steal cows?" Dan asked. "It's not as if I got a big family or somethin'."

"Honestly, Dan, I don't think you would steal stock, but someone has and I aim to find out who it is."

Peter Butler moved his horse next to the marshal and stared angrily at Dan Bryant.

"Why don't we check the brands, Tom?" He said, "Then we'd know for sure if Dan stole them. I betcha they're freshly done."

Dan was all tensed up and for a good reason; Peter Butler had basically called him a liar and a thief and he didn't cotton to that kind of treatment.

"Listen," Dan said, as calmly as he could, "Check the brands all you like, Pete. You'll find that none of them have been altered. I don't know about y'all, but I don't see how you could change a P B Slash to a Boxed B. It wouldn't be easy and it would be very noticeable. Besides, I only own two hundred head, give or take a few, the number you're sayin' I stole would almost double my current amount. You can go take a look and you'll find only two hundred head."

Phillip Sanders spoke up, "He's got a point, Peter." The quiet man said, "It wouldn't be easy and why should he anyway?"

Peter turned on Phillip, "Why are you all of a sudden siding with him? He probably has some of your very own cattle back in those mountains! I bet he altered your brands, too."

Lena could tell that her father wanted to shoot Peter on the spot, but he was too wise to do that; he knew that he would just get into more trouble. Still, if her father did start shooting, Lena would be right with him.

"To tell you boys the truth," Dan stated, "I haven't been out to see my own cattle in a few days, so if I do have stolen stock, it ain't my doin'."

Right at that moment, Patrick Reed, the younger of the Bryant's two cowhands rode up on his strawberry roan. He was a tall man, just turned twenty-five and was a top hand.

"Mr. Bryant." Patrick called out, as he slowed his horse. "Mr. Bryant, we have some stock missing from the eastern valley. I'd say a hundred head or so."

Lena sucked in her breath. "That's half our herd!" She exclaimed.

"Yep," He replied, "Sure is, Miss Bryant. It'll be devastating if we don't get 'em back."

Dan looked up at Patrick, "Where's Cook?"

"He's with what's left of the stock, over by Possum River."

"Make sure you keep the rest of the herd in a secluded spot, preferably one not easily reached. Tell Cook to bring them closer in tonight."

Patrick nodded, turned his horse and rode off.

"Well, Pete," Dan said, "Do you still think I stole your stock? Or did you change your mind?"

Peter Butler's face had turned white and no comprehensible words seemed to come out of his open mouth.

"I….uh," He stuttered. "Well…I figured…since you had…um…so much land….." His voice trailed off as Dan lifted his rifle.

"I suggest you get out of here before my trigger finger gets a little too itchy!"

Peter's eyes opened wide, "You wouldn't dare!"

"I might just," Dan growled, "If you don't leave. You called me a cow thief, Pete. I don't appreciate that much and I'd like to make it a known fact that I don't ignore that sort of treatment. You know as well as I what damage a Winchester rifle can do at this range. Now, get out before the marshal has to carry your remains!"

Peter turned his horse and, without a word, galloped down the trail.

You tell him, Pa!

Lena heard a low chuckle from Phillip Sanders.

"I couldn't a done better meself, Dan." He said, "I figured you weren't a thief, and I told old Peter so, only he wouldn't listen. I'd better get on down the road; I gotta to check on me own stock." He walked his horse briskly away, just as Dan lowered his gun and turned to the marshal.

"Someone's stealin' a lot of cattle 'round these parts, Tom. We need to find out who it is and we need to find out soon. I don't want to lose any more than I already have."

"I agree with you, Dan. I'll look into it." The marshal spun his appaloosa around and trotted off after the other two men.

"Well, Lena," Dan said, looking back at his daughter, "Would you still like to go into town?"

Lena nodded her head vigorously, "I certainly would, Pa!"

He motioned toward the corral, "Then, you get the horses ready, while I get some money."

Dan walked into the cabin and Lena ran the short distance to the barn, where she retrieved Shadow's harness. She attached the harness on her horse and returned to the barn for Colonel's harness. Lena finished attaching Colonel's harness to him and was leading both horses toward the buckboard when her father walked out of the cabin.

"Thanks, Lena." He said as he collected the horses' reins. He helped Lena hook them up to the buckboard and then gave her a hand up before he got up himself. They rode into town about twenty minutes later and dismounted in front of the general store.

"You go on in, Lena." Dan said, as he handed her the money pouch, "Pick out what you want and I'll be back in a few minutes."

Lena stepped into the large store and looked around. Here was everything a person could ever want or need. She strolled over to where the hats were, and found two that she couldn't choose between. One was a brown cowboy hat that looked somewhat like her father's; the other was a yellow straw hat that had a more young style to it. Picking up both hats, Lena walked to the counter and showed them to Isaac Griffin, the storekeeper.

"Which one do you think I should get, Mr. Griffin?" She asked him.

Isaac Griffin was a kind older man who had been with the town since it had begun. He was rather quiet most of the time, but would tell you his opinion of things if you wanted it. It was said that he used to be a gunman, however, no one really knew if that was true.

"Well, missy," The tranquil storekeeper replied. "If I was in your position, I would choose the one that would last longer."

"Which one would that be?"

He pointed a finger at the brown hat. "I'd say that one would be best for lots of use. Your pa has had his for a good many years and it's still in one piece."

Lena nodded in agreement, "Thank you, Mr. Griffin."

She left the brown hat on the counter and replaced the straw hat back on the stand, walking over to where an assortment of shoes was kept. The fifteen year-old searched the shelves and soon found a nice pair of moccasins that she knew would fit and placed them on the counter alongside the hat. Lena looked around the store for various other items for about ten more minutes and then decided to buy some cloth for a new dress. She selected a pretty green material and showed it to Mr. Griffin.

"Do you think this would be a good color?" Lena inquired of him.

"I'm not a very good person to talk to when it comes to picking out cloth of any kind. I suggest you walk over to that mirror and choose for yourself."

Lena stepped in front of the mirror the shopkeeper had pointed out and held the green material in front of her. The last time she had seen at her reflection was about three years ago, when she was twelve, and she had changed a lot. Lena was probably five feet four inches tall or so and was quite tanned from being out of doors all day long. She had light brown eyes, dark brown hair, like her father, which was almost to her waist, and had a few freckles on her nose. She didn't consider herself overtly pretty, but about half the town, including her father, thought she was, which was okay, she supposed.

Lena brought the cloth she was holding back to the counter and had Mr. Griffin cut her enough for what she needed. He was wrapping up her packages when she opened her money pouch.

"How much do I owe you for all this?" She asked.

Mr. Griffin leaned his elbows on the countertop and leaned forward, a twinkle in his eyes. "A certain little birdie told me it was your birthday, so you can have it all for free."

Her jaw dropped in utter amazement. She couldn't believe her ears!

"You can't be serious! You're going to give me all this?!"

"Well, I also owe your pa a debt. He helped me out with a cattle problem a few years back and I never got to repay him. You can have all that without charge and you can tell your pa that he can come in and get some things for free, too."

The door of the general store opened and Lena heard boots approach on the hardwood floor.

"I think you'd better take his offer, Lena, before he changes his mind."

Turning around, Lena saw Brian Walker walking towards her. Brian was the nineteen year old son of Julius and Elizabeth Walker, the oldest family in town. He was about six feet two inches tall, had brown-blond hair and sparkling blue-green eyes. Stopping right in front of her, he said, "How've you been, Lena?"

"Fine, I suppose."

He stared at her, incredulous, "'Fine, I suppose'? What kind of an answer is that? It's your birthday; you're supposed to be happy and joyful, not just 'fine'!"

"Really, Lena," Brian continued, grinning, "You shouldn't be so unhappy all the time."

That comment got Lena irritated, but it also made her smile.

"I never said that I was unhappy, Brian!"

Brian looked at her, twisting his hat in his hands, "There's a dance at the Wright's house tonight, Lena. I was hoping that you would go with me."

She smiled sweetly at him, "Of course I'll go with you, Brian. What time does it start?"

"As soon as the sun goes down."

Lena started to gather up her packages and replied, "I need to go home and get ready for it then."

"Let me help you with those," Brian stepped forward and retrieved Lena's packages from the counter. He followed her outside to her buckboard.